I know most blogs at the moment should be about Donald Trump but I’ve written all I want to on that subject here. I want to write about something different because, whilst Governments do their thing, the church is involved in a Kingdom that will last forever. It could, therefore, be argued from an eternal perspective that the most important events are currently being played out through apparently insignificant churches rather than in Washington.
With that in mind I want to reflect on what was, for me, a busy last week. It featured three baptisms, a funeral and a conference. Each of them taught me important lessons about the Gospel.
Jan’s funeral- the Gospel is a matter of life and death
Last Monday we gathered as a church to mark the death of Jan, a much loved church member. Through the emotion of the day there were two things that struck me powerfully. The first was deep appreciation for Jan’s understated sacrificial kindness and service. Again and again during the day I heard stories of little acts done to help other people- all away from the limelight. Looking back it was easy to take those things for granted during Jan’s life. We’ve been working our way through Philippians recently where we have seen a repeated emphasis on putting the needs of others before our own desires. Jan modelled that so well for us.
But secondly I was struck by the difference the Gospel makes to an occasion like that. There was something incredibly moving about being able to sing these words in the presence of a coffin: “And on that day when my strength is failing, The end draws near and my time has come, Still my soul will sing your praise unending, Ten thousand years and then forevermore.” We could rejoice both that that is Jan’s experience now and is also the hope for all those who have come to trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection as heard in the Gospel.
Of course the Gospel makes a difference to our lives now. But in an even greater way it makes a difference to our deaths and it was moving and glorious to be reminded of that.
Three baptisms- the Gospel changes lives
It has been wonderful that our last two Sunday morning services have featured baptisms. Two young people were baptised on the first Sunday and then it was Alan’s turn last week. He probably wouldn’t mind being described as slightly older and without a Christian background. Altogether we have seen 18 people baptised over the last two years- the Lord has done wonderful things that are marvellous in our eyes.
I was at the FIEC Conference last week (more in a moment) and mentioned to somebody that we had enjoyed various encouragements recently. “I have no idea why it is happening,” I commented. The answer came back quickly- “Presumably you are preaching the Gospel and praying.” It was a useful rebuke. At one level the Gospel can feel so very weak to us- the message of a gruesome death is somehow meant to be life changing. And yet, by the power of God, it is. As a church we have been given the immense privilege of seeing that. It should give us the confidence to go on praying, witnessing and perhaps inviting friends and neighbours to Christmas events because we have seen over the last couple of years that exposure to the Gospel in the presence of a Christian community that is praying is immensely powerful.
FIEC Conference- the world needs the Gospel
From Monday to Thursday last week David, Janet and I were at the FIEC Leaders’ Conference. The main theme was evangelism and it was engaging, challenging and provocative. I won’t go through all the details here save to mention the two passages that hit me most powerfully. They both reflect the heart of the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 9 we read of his compassion for the crowds because they are sheep without a shepherd. In Luke 19 we see Jesus breaking down and weeping over Jerusalem because He knows that it is a city that will face God’s judgement. I am so thankful for the compassion of Christ that meant He came looking for me at great cost to Himself.
But it is hard to escape the challenge. The Spirit is making us more like Jesus and that will have to involve heart broken compassion for the lost. There are so many around us who don’t know God and words of hope will not be able to sung over their coffins one day. Naturally, we want to close our eyes to this. After all, compassion is painful to experience. Who wants to weep? And yet- to be like Christ is to feel that deep gut wrenching sorrow.
We have big decisions ahead of us as a church. Last week motivated me afresh to seek to make those (and others) with a passionate concern for the spread of the Gospel in mind. Because people need to hear it. Because the Gospel is powerful to save people. And because only the Gospel can give hope in the darkness of death.